State agency overtime difficult to drive down

Posted at: 11/02/2012 5:33 PM
Updated at: 11/02/2012 5:48 PM
By: Beth Wurtmann

ALBANY - One agency at a time, we checked back to see if overtime costs had changed.... two years after we first reported on the cost borne by taxpayers.

Even as the state weathered a fiscal crisis, records we obtained show overtime expenses went up by nearly eight million dollars at the Office of Mental Health. And grew by two million at the Office of Children and Family Services.

"O/T" costs held steady at the Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services. Only the Department of Correctional Services reduced O/T costs by three million, but still racked up more than 109-million-dollars to staff those extra shifts.

"When the State does it this way year in and year out, they're really being dishonest with the taxpayers. They are systematically under staffing their agencies and using overtime to really a perverse degree," said Steve Madarasz of the public employees labor union CSEA.

Madarasz said Governor' Andrew Cuomo's directive for agency's to cut their budgets has created a severe staffing shortage, especially at the agency's we looked at, that all run secure facilities with 'round the clock care.

As we found, some of the employees are earning over 115,000 in overtime, more than doubling their pay. All perfectly allowed. But Madarasz said it poses a risk.

"People are working mandated double shifts there is strong likelihood that they're going to be stressed and fatigued. that mistakes will be made that they will get hurt," he said.

So what's the answer? None of the four agency heads responded to our questions.

New York's Comptroller suggested that agencies do a cost-benefit analysis to figure out if it's cheaper to hire more state workers instead of paying so much overtime.

Another union, the Public Employees Federation, said it's own study several years ago, concluded that the State could save from 7-11% in overtime costs by hiring workers.

But a business expert said in an uncertain economy, the smarter management strategy could be to pay overtime in the long run.

"If you're filling staff needs with overtime, and the demand drops off next week or next year, it's a lot easier to pull back on overtime than let someone go if you add to head count," said Ken Pokalsky, Vice President for Government Affairs at the Business Council of New York State.

Pokalsky added that when the state hires an employee, it pays salary plus up to 40% in benefits and costs like workers compensation, for years to come. He added those employees also have to be covered when they are sick or take overtime, and that other costs like severance pay, COBRA and unemployment expenses can add to the total costs.

Businesses don't shoulder these expenses when they pay overtime, he said, so on a case by case basis, it may actually save taxpayers money to pay overtime.

"When you hire someone it's not just the salary it's all these extra costs that go along with having additional people on your payroll," Polaksky said.

Madarasz called for what he describes as a 'happy medium," in which the state would fill some jobs where the staffing is stretched thin, and pay overtime on an emergency basis.

But a state budget spokesman told NewsChannel 13, "the State is hiring when it does make sense."


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